A Column on Consumer Issues
by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's
Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division

December 11, 2002


Almost everyone rents living space at some time in their life, but not everyone knows their rights and responsibilities as a tenant. What can make it more confusing is that any law can be changed by agreement between landlord and tenant. That is why it is always a good practice to have a written lease and to be familiar with its provisions before signing it.

Landlord/tenant laws vary from state to state. Following is some general information for landlords and tenants in North Dakota:

Moving in. New renters should not pay any money until they have inspected the rental unit. Landlords are required under state law to give the tenant a check-in sheet describing the condition of the property at the start of the lease. Both parties should sign this sheet to reduce the chance of later misunderstandings.

Security deposit. Landlords may require a tenant to place a security deposit of no more than one month's rent. This damage deposit can be used toward any damages caused by the tenant or his or her guests, unpaid rent, or the costs of cleaning that were the responsibility of the tenant. The deposit and a list of any itemized deductions must be returned to the tenant within 30 days of terminating the lease. Interest on the deposit must be paid if the landlord holds the deposit for more than nine months. You may also have to pay an extra deposit if you have a pet.

Late fees. If a tenant is late in paying rent, the landlord may charge a late fee. This late fee must, however, be a provision set forth in the lease. The lease must state how much the late fee will be and when it will be effective.

Increasing the rent. If a tenant has a month-to-month lease, the landlord may raise the rent by any amount by providing written notice at least 30 days before the end of the month. The tenant then can give a 25-day notice to terminate the lease at the end of the month. Tenants may use this 25-day provision only when the landlord changes any provision of the lease. If a tenant has a one-year lease, for example, the landlord generally cannot raise the tenant's rent until the end of that lease period.

General responsibilities of the landlord. Landlords must comply with housing codes, make repairs to keep the property habitable, keep common areas safe and clean, keep building facilities in safe and working order, provide garbage containers and removal, and place smoke detectors in each rental unit.

General responsibilities of the tenant. Tenants must comply with housing codes imposed on landlords, keep their units clean and safe, remove garbage regularly, use the plumbing and other building facilities in a reasonable manner, and make sure they and their guests do not disturb other tenants.

Making repairs. Tenants should promptly notify landlords when repairs are needed. Oral and written requests for repairs should be made as needed. Landlords must be given a "reasonable" amount of time to make a repair. But if the landlord does not make a repair, the tenant may make the repair and deduct the expense from the rent. It is a good idea to notify the landlord in writing that you intend to do this. You may also sue the landlord for repairs and other expenses in small claims court, or, as a last resort, terminate the lease and move out. This should be done only if serious repair problems or code violations exist.

For more information, get a copy of the booklet called 'North Dakota Landlord/Tenant Rights' from the North Dakota Apartment Association, toll free at 1-800-990-6322 or online at The Attorney General and his staff cannot give legal advice to, or mediate disputes for, landlords and tenants. If you need help settling a dispute, or have a question about a lease, contact the North Dakota Apartment Association or an attorney in private practice.

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division investigates allegations of fraud in the marketplace. Investigators also mediate individual complaints against businesses. If you have a consumer problem or question, call the Consumer Protection Division at 328-3404 (v/TDD) or toll-free at 1-800-472-2600 (v/TDD) or check our website at